Windamere Park is a beautiful, gum-studded, 300-acre property situated a short 15 minute drive from Two Wells in Buckland Park.
Bordered on one side by the Gawler River, and only a few kilometres from the sea, the property encompasses a productive olive grove, is home to a variety of animals and has its own small wetland.
Importantly, it is also an inspiring place and a sanctuary for more than 300 disabled people each week to continue their learning after high school in a safe, productive and accommodating environment.
Created in 1991 by Ted and Diana de Lyster, Windamere Park is not well-known to those outside the special education community, but the work the facility does has many far-reaching affects.
Ted, an ex-special education department adviser, who worked with special education students, saw a real need for further education for these students once they left school.
“It was very distressing for me to realise that a lot of these people had nowhere to go, no jobs to go into,” he explained.
“I saw a need to start day options (and) we looked for months to find the right place.
“And really, the only place we could settle in was, what was then, the Munno Para council.
“It was a good place.”
Clientele at Windamere Park include people with an intellectual disability or acquired brain injury, with skilled staff offering support to people with minimal, low, moderate, high and very high level of support needs but who are all independently mobile.
Some of the programs on offer include recreational and leisure skills, like fishing, boating, cooking, camping and gardening, to rural-based activities incorporating bush skills, feeding and caring for farm animals, and exploring the nearby wetland.
Students are also given the opportunity to complete pre-vocational studies at the park, with a variety of skills learnt through farm maintenance and paid hands-on practical experience in the 48,000-tree olive grove.
The property’s extra virgin olive oil has won three gold medals for best single estate produce, and is normally exported across the world to the United States, China, Canada, and Japan, but it is now being sold under the Kangaroo Paw label at selected IGA stores across the state.
Community programs are also a big part of the weekly program, which started with just five people and now caters for more than 300 across the week.
One of the first to access Windamere Park was cerebral palsy client David Coley, who has been attending for the past 23 years.
His father, Geoff Coley, is a founding member, and says the family struggled to find a suitable and engaging place for David once he finished school.
“There was nothing available and we hunted high and low for places to go,” Mr Coley said.
“We came across Windamere, and David is very happy there, mainly for the outdoor setting.
“There’s no other facility like it.”
Mr Coley says if the park could access more funding it would be able to grow and expand its already successful programs.
“There’s definitely a need there for such a place,” he said.
“David is very happy out there, and we’d certainly like more funding to grow the place and build on to it.”
Windamere Park is certainly a family affair, with Ted de Lyster, who is originally from Holland, and his wife Diana, as well as daughters, Yvette and Michele, all involved in the day-to-day running of the property and its programs.
They hope to establish overnight accommodation for clients at the property in the coming years, with Ted saying many families are in desperate need of respite.
“Respite accommodation, there’s a huge need for that, it’s at crisis point,” he said.
“There’s a huge drain on the community and the best option for these guys (clients) is to stay at home for as long as possible but if we don’t assist the parents they have no lives of their own, they can’t go away.
“We want to create an accommodation setup at Windamere that will cater for parents and their children.
“A place where our clients can stay overnight or camp, and that will allow parents to get a little bit of their life back, to go out at night, visit friends, or take a little holiday.”
Ted said with the impending housing development expected at Buckland Park, the facility was working with Playford Council, who had been supportive so far, to assess its options and create a path forward for all concerned.